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The Ruling Sea Part 56

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He did not stop, but to his great vexation he could think of nothing to say. Thasha swayed under his hands. In the stateroom Marila and Neeps resumed their argument.

Talk to her. Tell her something clever and calm. Or just kiss her. Do something, fool, before you lose the chance!

He raised a hand to her cheek. At once the spark of pain flared up in his chest, but he didn't care. He leaned nearer, until he could see that her eyes were closed. Her breath came in little puffs against his fingertips.

'What are you thinking about?' he said.

'Greysan.'



He could not have pulled away faster if she had tried to give him a rattlesnake. What was he doing here? What kind of mucking game was this for her? But as he turned to go Thasha caught his arm.

'You don't understand,' she said.

'I don't think I want to.'

He tugged his arm free and lurched for the door. To his back, Thasha said, 'I was thinking that if you and Neeps really don't trust him, then I can't either. And I won't.'

Pazel glanced back over his shoulder. 'It didn't stop you before,' he said.

'Stop me?' said Thasha, reddening.

He shrugged. 'From, well--'

'You're a prize pig, you know that?' said Thasha. 'Tell me this: why haven't you cut that shell out of your chest?'

Pazel said nothing. He had been dreading the question for months.

'Well?' she demanded. 'Isn't that how you're supposed to tell Klyst she's wasting her time?'

Still Pazel was silent. 'I just can't,' he said at last. 'I don't know why. It isn't that I mind the blood, you know.'

In the stateroom perfect silence had resumed. Thasha gazed at him like one contemplating murder. All at once she appeared to reach a decision. She pointed imperiously at the chair at her desk. 'Sit down,' she said.

Pazel obeyed, and Thasha went to the secret wall cabinet and took out the Polylex Polylex. She set it down quickly before him, as though even that brief touch was something she'd rather avoid.

'We're going to find an answer to Marila's question,' she said. 'Or rather you are. One hint, though: don't look up an obvious word like "Arunis" or "Nilstone." Remember that the authors were trying to sneak sneak in information, so that the Emperor would let it be published. You have to use your intuition if you want to find anything.' in information, so that the Emperor would let it be published. You have to use your intuition if you want to find anything.'

Pazel took a deep breath. 'I'll try Licherog.' Licherog.'

Thasha dropped back on her bed. 'That'll do. It's probably too easy, but maybe it will lead us somewhere.'

Pazel opened the book, astonished by the thinness of the dragonfly-wing paper. The print was small and ornate, the entries infinite and strange. Lamb's blood. Lycanthropy. Lorg Academy (Origins). Lead Tomb. Lich of Greymorrow. Lamb's blood. Lycanthropy. Lorg Academy (Origins). Lead Tomb. Lich of Greymorrow.

And finally, Licherog, Prison Isle of. Licherog, Prison Isle of.

The entry ran to nine pages, and was full of horrifying detail, such as the recurrent problem of cannibalism when food shipments were delayed, and the prison guards who were held hostage for sixteen years when a rebellion broke out on an underground floor. There was quite a lot about the Shaggat Ness, his sons, and the palace vacated for him by the Warden of Licherog. Of Arunis, however, there was only a brief mention: how he was held for twenty years with his master, tried to escape, was wounded by a guard's arrow, recaptured, and hanged.

'It says he cursed the guard before he died, and the poor man had a breakdown, quit the army, moved back in with his mother on Opalt, and slowly went mad.' Pazel shook his head. 'There isn't much more. Arunis the sorcerer died upon the gibbet, and dangled there nine days. The birds who pecked his flesh fell stone dead, as from poison; and the sharks, when he was chopped and given over to them, were found later belly-up upon the sea Arunis the sorcerer died upon the gibbet, and dangled there nine days. The birds who pecked his flesh fell stone dead, as from poison; and the sharks, when he was chopped and given over to them, were found later belly-up upon the sea. That's all. Weird, but not much help.'

'Try "Death" then,' said Thasha quietly.

Pazel turned more pages. Death Death included some macabre speculations about the least and most painful ways of inflicting it, and the posthumous torments of the sinful, and Agaroth, death's shadowy Border-Kingdom in the underworld. But Pazel saw nothing about ways to cheat death, or return from it to this life. included some macabre speculations about the least and most painful ways of inflicting it, and the posthumous torments of the sinful, and Agaroth, death's shadowy Border-Kingdom in the underworld. But Pazel saw nothing about ways to cheat death, or return from it to this life.

'That's odd,' he said suddenly. 'The entry breaks off in mid-sentence. There's room for more words, but it's unfinished, listen to this--'

'Don't!' said Thasha sharply. 'I don't want to hear it!' Her voice was tight with pain, as though she were walking barefoot on glass. 'Remember what I told you the night before the wedding, about how the book adds entries on its own? That's how it happens: first a blank space, then words that grow like a vine to fill the space. But when I read those new parts I feel horrible horrible. Look up something else. "Sorcery," maybe.'

Pazel tried to move faster. But Sorcery Sorcery was no help, and neither was was no help, and neither was Necromancy Necromancy or or Resurrection Resurrection. By the time he'd moved on to Mage Mage Thasha had backed to the far side of the bed, hugging herself into a ball. Thasha had backed to the far side of the bed, hugging herself into a ball.

Pazel took in her vacant, frightened eyes, and slammed the book shut. 'Right, I'm putting this thing away. Matter of fact, let's put it further away from you. We can hide it in your father's cabin; that's still inside the magic wall.'

'No!' said Thasha. 'I have to keep it near me. I'm . . . responsible for it.'

Pazel was about to argue, but at that moment the door creaked, and Neeps looked into the cabin.

'I could hear all that,' he said.

'Sorry to bother you,' said Pazel sarcastically.

'Don't be an oaf, I thought of something. You read about the guard who shot Arunis with the arrow - the one he cursed. Remember where it says he went?'

'Back to Opalt, with his mum,' said Pazel.

'And who else came from Opalt?'

Thasha raised her head slowly. 'Ket,' she said. 'The soap merchant. Arunis' false identity, when he first came aboard. Neeps, you could be onto something.'

She hopped from the bed, as Pazel opened the book and began leafing through it again.

'What do you know, he's in here,' he said after a moment. 'But there's hardly anything, just two lines. Ket, a merchant family of Opalt, specializing in salves and soaps. The m-- Ket, a merchant family of Opalt, specializing in salves and soaps. The m--'

Pazel stopped in amazement, all but choking on the words. ' The most successful member of the family to date, Liripus Ket, joined the family trade after a complete recovery from madness, which befell him during military service in his youth.' The most successful member of the family to date, Liripus Ket, joined the family trade after a complete recovery from madness, which befell him during military service in his youth.'

Pazel looked up from the book, first at Thasha, then at Neeps. A chill seemed to have descended on the room.

'Ket was the guard on Licherog,' he said. 'Arunis didn't just curse him - he became became him. That's how he escaped the island nobody ever escapes. He can do more than just get inside someone's head. He can take over. He can blary move in.' him. That's how he escaped the island nobody ever escapes. He can do more than just get inside someone's head. He can take over. He can blary move in.'

At that moment Marila's voice called from the outer stateroom. 'Thasha! Come out here, hurry up.'

Thasha sprang from the cabin, with the boys right behind her. Marila was at the stateroom door, which was open a crack. 'It's Dastu,' she said. 'He's just outside the magic wall, with the guard. He wants to come inside.'

'Oh, I have to blary invite him, don't I?' said Thasha. She opened the door wide and beckoned, and Dastu stepped through the magic wall and hurried towards them. He looked as though he were barely able to keep from breaking into a run. Slipping into the room, he eyed the four of them with a mixture of relief and anxiety.

'You're all here,' he said, shutting the door behind him. 'That's good. Listen to me close, now. I found Bolutu.'

'You found him!' they cried.

Dastu nodded. 'He's down in the liquor vault, and he's in a bad way. That change he was expecting? Well I think it's started, mates. And he says he's got to tell you something before before it's done, Pazel. Somethin' about Rose - about "how to get the better of Rose." He won't say more than that to me.' it's done, Pazel. Somethin' about Rose - about "how to get the better of Rose." He won't say more than that to me.'

'Why didn't you bring him here?' said Neeps, looking at Dastu nervously.

'Bring him?' Lord Rin, mate, you'll see! Pazel, you've got to come down there! It's safe, for the time being. There's nobody in the Abandoned House. And I think we can manage without a lamp.' him?' Lord Rin, mate, you'll see! Pazel, you've got to come down there! It's safe, for the time being. There's nobody in the Abandoned House. And I think we can manage without a lamp.'

'We'll all go,' said Neeps.

'Come on, Undrabust!' said Dastu, more high-strung than Pazel had ever seen him. 'This ain't the dead of night. What'll our story be if we're caught? What if that guard decides to tell somebody that we all charged out of here together?'

'I am am going,' said Thasha. 'If Bolutu's really got something to do with Ramachni, I have to be there.' going,' said Thasha. 'If Bolutu's really got something to do with Ramachni, I have to be there.'

Dastu squirmed with impatience. 'Whoever's going has to come with me now now. You don't know what's going on in there!'

Pazel turned to Neeps and Marila. 'It'll be four bells in, what, twenty minutes? Come after us then, if we're not back. Just take the long way around, and for Rin's sake, don't let anyone see you on the scuttle! All right, Dastu, let's go.'

Before Neeps could think of another objection, Pazel, Thasha and Dastu stepped out of the room. Neeps watched them until they passed the guard, then shut the door and whirled around.

'Twenty minutes!' he said to Marila. 'I'll go plum mad, worrying about them! Damn and blast, I still still don't trust that Bolutu, even if he does have the scar. And you were a big help! Couldn't you have said don't trust that Bolutu, even if he does have the scar. And you were a big help! Couldn't you have said something something?'

Marila walked up to him with a scowl, as though prepared to resume their fight. But instead she placed her pale cheek against his darker one, and stood there, blinking, until he put his arms around her shoulders. 'When are you going to tell me why you really stowed away?' he said.

'Soon,' said Marila.

Five or six minutes passed. One of their stomachs growled. Jorl and Suzyt padded in circles, whining for Thasha.

Suddenly Marila tensed, and raised her head.

'How could Bolutu get inside the vault?' she said. 'Pazel locked it after the council meeting, with the master key. He said so.'

Neeps stared at her. A terrible notion seemed to be blossoming within him, broader and fouler by the second. He let go of Marila. Then he charged for the door and threw it open and ran, not caring who saw him or where they thought he was going.

'I've got matches,' whispered Dastu, 'but let's go as far as we can without 'em. The light could give us away.'

'I don't need any light,' said Thasha. 'I could find that room in my sleep.'

They were at the bottom of the Silver Stair. Voices reached them from the mercy deck, but they were far forwards, barely to be heard. They passed the spot where Jervik had accosted Pazel, then the smoke cellar, the paint room, the stacks of anonymous freight. Dastu was right: the path to the scuttle was perfectly clear.

'I wasn't expecting anything like this,' Pazel murmured. 'Bolutu didn't sound worried about changing back into himself. In fact I thought he was looking forward to it.'

'He shouldn't have been,' said Dastu grimly. 'Quiet now, we're almost there.'

Silent as thieves, they crept down the scuttle and into the Abandoned House. The smells, the slop of bilge, the maze of narrow passages were unchanged from the night before - and after the first turn, so was the blackness. The three youths linked hands, and groped slowly forwards. At last they reached the door of the liquor vault.

Pazel heard a creak. 'It's open,' whispered Dastu. But not the least glimmer of light came from the vault. Dastu whispered urgently: 'Say there, Bolutu! I've brought them. Pathkendle, and Thasha both. Where are you?'

No reply but the splash of the bilge. 'He had a lamp,' whispered Dastu, moving forwards. Then he stopped abruptly, as if he had stubbed a toe. 'Oh Pitfire,' he said. 'Come in, quick. Tell me when the blary door's shut.'

Still holding the elder tarboy's hand, Pazel stopped, making Thasha pause as well. Something was different about the room now. Was it the smell, the temperature? He couldn't be sure. But he knew he did not want to go into the room. He started to let go of Dastu - but the older boy's hand tightened sharply.

'Didn't you hear?' he said, voice sharp with anger. 'I said tell me when the door is shut!'

Dastu gave a savage tug. As Pazel crashed forwards, a knee struck him so hard in the stomach that he could not even cry out. Another blow landed on the back of his head, and he fell. When he regained his senses a moment later someone was lighting a lamp, and a heavy boot was on his chest. He began to rise, but the boot stomped with terrible violence, and at the same time a cold blade touched his throat. It was a broadsword, old, weather-stained, sharp as a razor. At the other end of it was Captain Rose.

'The door is shut,' said a second voice.

Pazel moaned with rage and frustration. The voice was Sandor Ott's. He turned his head and saw the spymaster holding Thasha from behind, one hand pulling her hair, making her arch her back and thrust her chin at the ceiling; the other holding his long white knife against her side.

36.

The Cost in Blood

9 Umbrin 941

Diadrelu felt like weeping, though she could not have said if it was with grief or joy. How they commingle, those pure extremes, whenever one feels them fully How they commingle, those pure extremes, whenever one feels them fully.

Two yards from her, Felthrup sat with his head on his forepaws, his throat still puffy with Dr Chadfallow's water injection, the blood from whatever battles he had survived stiff and dry in his black fur. His eyes had opened very slowly a moment ago, and were open still. But Dri knew they did not see her.

'I thought he was gone,' she said. 'I feared Mugstur had killed him at last.'

Hercol reached through the bars. She turned and leaned into his palm with a sigh. 'We are all of us exiles,' she said. 'That is what binds us: our not-belonging, our homelessness. The way our natural kin have turned on us, or turned us out, or become so strange to us that we no longer fit. But none of us are so exiled as he. Back on the Nelu Peren he begged us, begged us to accept him as a friend. My brother responded by locking him in a pipe.'

'You responded differently,' said Hercol. 'If he dies now, he at least will have known what it is to be cared for.'

Dri raised her arms in his direction. Hercol lifted her through the bars and kissed her forehead, ever so gently. When he withdrew she bent double, placed her palms flat on his open hand, and there before his worshipful eyes pressed up into a handstand, perfectly balanced and still. She smiled, crossed her legs. Hercol breathed a sigh.

'Diadrelu Tammariken,' he said, 'you're the marriage of all the dreams of women my heart has entertained.'

She laughed, gazing down at his palm. 'You yourself are not quite as perfect as all that,' she said. 'Just perfect enough for me to believe that you're real, and that you might stay with me awhile.'

'Awhile?' he said. 'After I leave this cell, I hope never to know another morning when I wake and do not find you beside me.'

'And the incomprehension of your people? And mine?'

'You spoke the answer,' he said. 'We're exiles already. We're a new people. Mongrels now, later the creators of a race.'

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